Senate vote paves the way for $1.1bn US-Saudi arms deal

While the resolution was stopped, the unprecedented public criticism of Saudi Arabia in congress continues to grow.
Senate armed services committee chairman Sen John McCain, speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Senate on September 21, 2016, backed the Obama administration's plan to sell more than $1 billion worth of American-made tanks and other weapons to Saudi Arabia. Susan Walsh / AP Photo
Senate armed services committee chairman Sen John McCain, speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Senate on September 21, 2016, backed the Obama administration's plan to sell more than $1 billion worth of American-made tanks and other weapons to Saudi Arabia. Susan Walsh / AP Photo

Abu Dhabi // The US senate overwhelmingly voted down a bipartisan attempt to block a billion-dollar sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia over concerns about its role in the war in Yemen.

Senators voted 71 to 27 to kill the resolution that would have halted the sale of US$1.15 billion (Dh4.2bn) worth of tanks and other arms to one of the United State’s closest allies in the Middle East.

“Blocking this sale of tanks will be interpreted by our Gulf partners, not just Saudi Arabia, as another sign that the United States of America is abandoning our commitment to the region and is an unreliable security partner,” said senator John McCain, the chairman of the senate armed services committee.

Most senators, including Ben Cardin of Maryland, who has in the past temporarily blocked arms sales to Riyadh because of concerns over Yemen, voted to allow the sale to go forward.

While the resolution was stopped, meaning the sale can go ahead, the unprecedented public criticism of Saudi Arabia in congress continues to grow.

Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Rand Paul — who led the effort to block the arms sale — said during a debate on the senate floor before Wednesday’s vote that the resolution was meant as a signal to Riyadh over civilian deaths in Yemen and their alleged global promotion of its fundamentalist version of Islam.

The senators said it was also a message to the White House about its lack of congressional authority for its military actions in the Middle East.

Earlier this year, the senate and the house of representatives voted unanimously to allow the families of September 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in the American courts for any alleged role its officials may have played in the plot.

US president Barack Obama has vowed to veto the legislation, and has until tonight to do so.

The White House has been reportedly lobbying members of congress to rethink their position in order to prevent an override.

Administration officials primarily argue that the bill is far too broad and would effectively open a Pandora’s box by ending the principle of sovereign immunity and make officials, service members and other American citizens vulnerable to prosecution in foreign courts.

The White House had hoped that an override vote could be pushed back to the lame duck session of congress after elections in November, when there would be less political pressure and more time to agree on a compromise.

Some members have been receptive to the arguments of the White House, but statements by senior legislators this week showed that an override vote may come as early as next week before the break time is set to begin, greatly increasing its chances.

Adding to the pressure on Riyadh, a similar resolution on arms sales to the one voted down on Wednesday has been introduced in the house, where more support may be garnered.

In June, the lower chamber came close to passing a bill that would have banned the sale of cluster munitions to Riyadh.

Still, the senate vote has paved the way for the arms deal with Saudi Arabia, approved by the state department and announced by the Pentagon last month, of as many 153 M1A2 Abrams tanks produced by aerospace and defence company General Dynamics.

Twenty of the tanks will replace those destroyed or damaged in the Yemen war, the Pentagon said in its notification.

The sale includes other equipment and weapons, including night vision devices, machine guns, ammunition and grenade launchers, according to the defence security cooperation agency.

tkhan@thenational.ae

Published: September 22, 2016 04:00 AM

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